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A travel day filled with familiar anxieties

I heard about the crash of American Flight 587 from another woman in the gym where I work out. In a voice full of fear, she all but shouted it at me.

A plane was down in New York. Houses were on fire.

It sounded the same. They were quite willing to ram a plane into a building, so why not the plain earth?

This is what I thought.

The next thought was about the government: Can't they get airline security right after all that we've been through?

The day's news was a mixed stew of tragedy, anxiety and uncertainty, because no one could say for sure whether this was a terrorist attack.

I headed to the airport. Every airport in America would be part of this story.

I pulled up to the short-term parking entrance at Tampa International Airport and took a ticket to enter. A man with a voice full of New York told me to stop.

Then he told me to get out of the car and open the trunk so he could look inside.

He didn't even move the spare tire or the battery cables.

I must not look the type to be packing a bomb.

I had to go through this drill as the result of new rules from the FAA, established since Sept. 11. No car can be within 300 feet of the terminal. The short term lot sits on top of the terminal. A car bomb could do great damage.

I mentioned something to the man with the New York voice about the crash of American Flight 587. The man said brusquely that his bosses with the airport police told him that it was a plane crash, pure and simple.

I said goodbye to the man, parked my car and took the elevator down to the terminal's third floor. Long lines snaked up to the ticket counters. When the airports are shut down in metropolitan New York, at least half the nation's air travel is delayed.

In line at the American Airlines counter, a man named William Foster McDaniel had a story to tell.

"I have the worst luck," he said.

He was supposed to fly here on Sept. 12 for an eight-week gig in Sarasota. He is a pianist from Manhattan. But civilian planes weren't flying Sept. 12, one day after the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the plane crash in Pennsylvania. So McDaniel had to rent a car and drive.

Now, with the crash of American Flight 587, he had the same problem but in the opposite direction, going home to New York.

"I'm going to get my bag back and get on a Greyhound bus," he said.

Another New Yorker, Ed Laflamme, had his own backup plan. In case he couldn't fly home Monday, he had rented a hotel room in Tampa for Monday night. "And it's nonrefundable," he said.

These are the stories of life's inconveniences, aggravating to the maximum when you endure them. But in the great scheme of events, they are no big deal.

People seemed to understand that.

The mood in the airport line was easy, comfortable. Nobody appeared impatient. Strangers made friends in the minutes they had to wait to get to the ticket counter.

Except when I asked, no one talked about the crash of Flight 587. The people in line had seen the news. Or they'd been on the phone with family back home. They knew what had happened. They know these events will be the background sounds of their lives for a long time, and that anybody could be a target.

Said Jill Hanson, a woman going home to Dallas: "'If it's meant to be, it's meant to be."

_ Mary Jo Melone can be reached at 226-3402 or mjmelonesptimes.com.

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